Dinner parties and cocktail parties are two distinctly different beasts, and while I love nothing more than going out, there’s simply something VERY special about inviting friends and family over for a cocktail party. It’s so much EASIER than having to cook course after course, making sure you have a long enough table and the seating arrangements are JUST right.
Still – I tend to obsess just a little. Here are a few things that make it easier for me.
Grab a notebook & create a list of what you’ll need – I do this first because as I’m going through some of the other steps, invariably I have a “DOH” moment. It can be as simple as 12 champagne glasses, 5 bottles of Freixenet, Wholly Guacamole & pita chips, tapas, coffee, and a selection of Torani syrups.
Personally, I LOVE themes – I don’t mean we’re going to dress up as Disney characters (although if my friend Marshall were the guest of honor, I might consider it). Something as simple as a color scheme, a flavor that runs throughout the party, or even a cultural theme (French wine, brie, petit fours, etc.). I find a theme helps me with figuring out what to serve.
Schedule – As you can see, I’m a list maker so I write things down. That way the shopping is done, the olives are ready on toothpicks, the veggies have been cut for the dip, the brie is baked, and the invitations have gone out without stress. It also means that I’ll have plenty of time to wriggle into a glamorous dress, and do my hair & makeup so that I can greet my guests and make it all look easy.
Decorate – This is where the theme comes in. Candles, flowers, napkins & plates in the same color scheme is easy to do. I love making sure there are plenty of fresh flowers, coordinating towels (even if they’re the paper guest towels) in the bathroom.
Move the furniture – you want an open flow so people can mingle, but remember to have tables where they can set the food & drink down.
Get some drinks your guests will remember – Don’t feel like you have to stick with the regular grocery store wines and spirits. Why not get that marvelous 30-year-old port from out of your cellar or try the incredible Pappy Van Winkle bourbon and see how your guests react. Chances are, it’ll be the highlight of the evening.
Easy Foods –Remember that your guests will be walking around with a drink in their hand, so you want finger foods that can easily be picked up. Keeping it simple with dips & crudités, a cheese, Wholly Guacamole & pita, nut & fruit platter, and finger pastry. I figure 6 – 8 appetizers per person.
The BAR – The decision to have a bartender or make it a DIY bar is completely up to you, although I find that it is easier with a larger crowd to have someone else taking control of pouring.
Be prepared with twice as many glasses as you have guests. If you’re offering a variety of drinks, you’ll need a variety of glasses from champagne & wine glasses, to high ball & martini glasses. Don’t forget the cocktail napkins or you’ll be looking at rings on your good wood furniture!
For a champagne/wine only party – figure one bottle per 2 guests and have an assortment available.
A BASIC bar should include: vodka, whiskey & wine….if you want to really outdo yourself add gin, tequila, rum, bourbon, & vermouth. However – we go back to the theme. If it’s a MARTINI party you know what to have on hand. You’ll also need mixers like OJ & other juices, soda, tonic, ginger ale, tomato juice, Tabasco, lemons, limes, horseradish, and Worcestershire sauce, as well as olives, cherries, sliced lemons & limes, toothpicks, etc.
ICE, ICE, ICE – there’s nothing worse than running out of ice, and it’s seem like this happens more often than not. PREPARE & get extra. Figure 1 lb. per guest.
COFFEE – I put on a pot at about the 2/3 – 3/4 point so that people can get prepared for the drive home. I always add a selection of Torani syrups for fun and variety. I also have the local TAXI company on speed dial if I think someone should not be driving.
ENJOY YOURSELF – Relax. Your guests have a drink in their hand, music is playing, and they’re all mingling. It’s time to relax and have fun. This isn’t about being perfect, it’s about gathering with good friends and family.
I listed a couple of my favorite brands in this post. In the past I have received product from a couple of them. In this case I am purchasing them for use at my party.